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6.7

Generally favorable reviews- based on 166 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Negative: 22 out of 166
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  1. Nov 17, 2013
    3
    Interminable plod through America's civil war movement seen through the experiences of a Butler serving several presidents over many years in the White House. The film cannot escape the feeling of being fake, trivialised and manufactured in its self important telling of an awful chapter in American History. It also feels very second hand with key events mostly being depicted via archiveInterminable plod through America's civil war movement seen through the experiences of a Butler serving several presidents over many years in the White House. The film cannot escape the feeling of being fake, trivialised and manufactured in its self important telling of an awful chapter in American History. It also feels very second hand with key events mostly being depicted via archive footage, mainly on a TV screen. Also, as soon as anything bad or dramatic happens the obligatory music kicks in for added impact often with that reliable crutch, the gospel choir at hand. This has the effect of producing schmaltz rather than gravitas.
    A starry cast, generally playing presidents or first ladies to mixed success, give a cough and a spit and are gone. However, anyone expecting (as I did) for this to be a more serious expose of White house politics will be sorely disappointed. This is first and foremost about the Butler and his family. The film has a lot to say potentially, but ultimately, due to the story's priorities very little is actually said. Forrest Whittaker and Oprah Winfrey are undeniably good, but this is Oscar bait work to be sure. For a really natural and un self conscious performance just watch the far superior Lupita Nyong'O in the artistically much better 12 years a slave. No grand standing here, just great work! On the technical side the film is nothing special. The cinematography at times has a grainy look to it and it's definitely far too long. By the film's close I felt that I had aged with the two leads and lived the history.
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  2. Sep 6, 2013
    5
    Long and tedious. Two stars maybe. Fair acting. Good film clips. Dull in parts and way too long ..Save your money. Definitely not worth the money or time.
  3. Jan 16, 2014
    6
    Lee Daniels’ enterprising biographic saga of Cecil Gaines (Whitaker), a black White House butler who serves eight presidents (based on a true story), was a substantial Box Office triumph back in October, and the talking point converges on its all-star cast, in particular the varying presidents and historic personages’ impersonation and an Oscar-baiting role for Oprah Winfrey’s big screenLee Daniels’ enterprising biographic saga of Cecil Gaines (Whitaker), a black White House butler who serves eight presidents (based on a true story), was a substantial Box Office triumph back in October, and the talking point converges on its all-star cast, in particular the varying presidents and historic personages’ impersonation and an Oscar-baiting role for Oprah Winfrey’s big screen return, 15 years after BELOVED (1998).

    I’m not a naysayer of Daniel’s sordid THE PAPERBOY (2012, 6/10), but his trademark sepia-tone does precipitates the visual fatigue in spite of its retrospective homage, and the sketchy account of different presidents comes shortchanged as trite and uninspiring. The mainstay, nevertheless, is undeviatingly unraveled around Cecil’s dissidence against his radical son Louis (Oyelowo), underpinned by a very Oparhesque slap during an inopportune family dinner, until the belated conciliation. Cecil’s reserved discretion stems from his childhood trauma in the southern cotton field, but fortuitously he is discovered by an obnoxious officer to work in the White House (this part is schematized hastily and deficient of rationality, it must be more rigid procedures to be recruited as a staff there).

    So infused with the prerogative of serving the most powerful men in the country and a decent lifestyle, Cecil involuntarily leans on a more conservative slant of the equity movement for black folks, since most presidents he serves hold a strong attitude to change the status quo, he cannot understand why his son cannot be a bit patient but it is another lay of the land out of his comfy home; Louis is a foolhardy fighter, but he has a perspicuous mind, chooses to leave before he is immersed too deep into the Black Panther fanatic. It is not that all these happenings aren’t inviting, but in the film, Daniels only skims on the surfaces of the phenomenon, it is certainly a too wide time span and too many ramifications for one film to entail both comprehensively and attentively.

    Whitaker is brilliant and the MVP here, an ideal husband, a conscientious butler and an apolitical observer, underplays his character with subtle nuances, his two different facades, although the script dare not give him too much to handle just as life should be, his presence is a spectacle to watch. Oyelowo, a rising star deserves more leading roles, is another praiseworthy member from the bulky cast, while Winfrey’s part, is no Monique in PRECIOUS (2009, 8/10), a pedestrian housewife with alcohol problem scarcely has anything new to offer. What are the remainders after the transient merry-go-around of star-popping? I guess for me it is John Cusack’s fake nose and Cuba Gooding Jr.’s smug-face, and the film itself is an underachieved FORREST GUMP (1994, 9/10) wannabe.
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  4. Dec 22, 2013
    5
    What story did Lee Daniels want to tell? Instead of telling a personal story of the man Cecil and his family, Lee Daniels seemed to give us a history lesson of the 20th century that Cecil had nothing to do with. With so many characters and going back and forth between all the major events at the time, the movie loses its focus of telling an incredible journey.
  5. Dec 26, 2013
    5
    The main character is nice and passive, but there is nothing more to him. Trying to build this grand story around him wasn't very necessary because he did absolutely nothing. If you want to tell the evolution of African Americans fight for justice this was not the way to go about it. The cast is so large that you either forget half of them or only remember them for their amateurThe main character is nice and passive, but there is nothing more to him. Trying to build this grand story around him wasn't very necessary because he did absolutely nothing. If you want to tell the evolution of African Americans fight for justice this was not the way to go about it. The cast is so large that you either forget half of them or only remember them for their amateur performances. There isn't much to hate about this film, but it just didn't have anything to say that felt worthwhile. Expand
  6. Jan 16, 2014
    5
    This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Affermare che la montagna ha partorito il topolino potrà essere banale, ma il modo di dire viene subito in mente dopo aver assistito a questa fiera delle occasioni sprecate. Il racconto della vita di Cecil Gaines, dalle piantagioni di cotone degli anni Venti dove la schiavitù non era ancora finita all’elezione di un presidente nero, era sulla carta interessante perché consente di raccontare la difficile strada verso la parità della gente di colore attraverso gli occhi di un uomo che passa la maggior parte del suo tempo fra i bianchi, anzi nel cuore stesso del loro potere, la Casa Bianca. Cresciuto sottomesso e con una professione che richiede discrezione e invisibilità, Cecil si fa scorrere addosso la vicenda storica della ribellione della sua gente nella quale si infila invece con convinzione il figlio Louis che ne paga le conseguenze nei confronti della legge (botte e prigione) e del padre, che gli sarà per lungo tempo lontano. Ispirato a una figura realmente esistita, il protagonista è una brava persona che lavora sodo ed è attaccata alla famiglia, ma che fa carriera sottomettendosi e non ribellandosi per poi accorgersi troppo tardi che nella sua vità ci poteva essere spazio per qualcosa di più. Ecco, da tutto questo po’ po’ di spunti, il regista Lee Daniels e lo sceneggiatore Danny Strong ricavano un film quasi del tutto piatto dal punto di vista emozionale (la cosa più appassionante è, di gran lunga, il trailer) per colpa anche di una struttura troppo frammentata fatta di brevi momenti che qua e là tendono a ripetersi, come nel rapporto tra Gaines e la moglie Gloria. Non sempre è efficace neppure lo sfruttamento dei momenti topici che si intrecciano alla vita di Cecil: gli assassinii di Kennedy e Martin Luther King sono poco più che accennati e l’esistenza di un secondo figlio, Charlie, sembra servire solo a indicare che, ah sì, c’è stata anche la guerra del Vietnam. Le amnesie (clamorosa l’assenza di Malcolm X, citato di passaggio in una battuta) e le distorsioni storiche del cinema statunitense non hanno mai impedito di fare dei bei film, ma qui la visione è abbastanza superficiale da far sì che, ad esempio, i presidenti sembrino un po’ tutti uguali: apprezzabile la scelta di non ricercare la somiglianza a tutti i costi, ma restano figure bidimensionali con la sola eccezione del Nixon un po’ troppo affezionato alla bottiglia di John Cusack. L’attore è solo uno dei tanti che appaiono solo pochi minuti in un cast davvero esagerato che va da Robin Williams (Eisenowher) ad Alan Rickman (Reagan) e da Vanessa Redgrave (la padrona del piccolo Cecil) a Jane Fonda (probabilmente la migliore nell’impersonare un’energica Nancy Reagan), mentre un po’ più di spazio lo hanno Cuba Gooding Jr e Lenny Kravitz nei panni degli amici e colleghi del protagonista. La prestazioni degli attori è, comunque, la nota più positiva del film e questo vale soprattutto per i ruoli principali. Un dimagrito Forest Whitaker dimostra anche con Cecil Gaines di essere un interprete assai sottovalutato e, accanto a lui, Oprah Winfrey dà vita a Gloria con sorprendente gusto e sensibilità, costretta prima a sopportare le assenze del marito e poi a cercare di mediare tra lui e il figlio (David Oyelowo). Sono loro che, dando profondità ai rapporti interfamiliari igrazie a scene in cui anche la scrittura è più efficace, attirano comunque l’attenzione dello spettatore: certo, se il film terminasse con la presa di coscienza di Cecil sarebbe meglio, ma la pleonastica coda obamiana (che pure odora un po’ di propaganda) ha un suo senso nella chiusura di una fase storica in cui sono vissute e si sono confrontate due anime all’interno della comunità nera degli Stati Uniti. Forse un giorno qualcuno ci racconterà tale confronto con più efficacia, ora possiamo accontentarci di questo elegante (buona la fotografia di Andrew Dunn, incalzante la partitura di Rodrigo Leão) ma un po’ prolisso bigino Expand
  7. Dec 24, 2013
    5
    Just got around to seeing ‘Lee Daniel’s The butler’ and in short; it was a moderately entertaining picture, with a possible identity crisis. The movie arbitrarily shifts from being a history lesson on racism, a teaser with various presidential cameos and a moving family drama. With very good performances from Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo, it finds much success as aJust got around to seeing ‘Lee Daniel’s The butler’ and in short; it was a moderately entertaining picture, with a possible identity crisis. The movie arbitrarily shifts from being a history lesson on racism, a teaser with various presidential cameos and a moving family drama. With very good performances from Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo, it finds much success as a dynamic family drama; but the rest was a mixed bag. From the odd casting choices of the presidents to the haphazardly told story of 20th century racism in America, much of it just didn’t quite jell. However, I would like to stress on the quality of those performances, which carries this film up steep slope. That’s what largely made this a decent watch. Expand
  8. Nov 20, 2013
    6
    Four words: So much wasted potential. First, the good. Whittaker was fantastic as always, as was the actor who played the older son. The cinematography is fantastic, and some scenes are extremely well done. The problem I had with this film was that it was actually two different films: the story of the real person on which this was based on(which is quite interesting without theFour words: So much wasted potential. First, the good. Whittaker was fantastic as always, as was the actor who played the older son. The cinematography is fantastic, and some scenes are extremely well done. The problem I had with this film was that it was actually two different films: the story of the real person on which this was based on(which is quite interesting without the fictionalization) and the Civil Rights epic with the story of the father and the son. Both would have been excellent films had they been done separately, but together, it just ends up an oscar-bait-y mess. The all-star casting feels way too gimmicky and doesn't really work (I mean, Oprah? Really? Plenty of talented actresses would kill for that role and would have done a far better job) Expand
  9. Sep 24, 2013
    6
    The film tries to connect the history of race relations and the story of a family. It fails to do so. It trivializes and vulgarizes everything it touches. The cameo appearances backfire badly--Robin Williams and Alan Rickman are spectacularly miscast. Forest Whitaker is extraordinary, and his work redeems the family story but cannot do much for the political history. One critic hasThe film tries to connect the history of race relations and the story of a family. It fails to do so. It trivializes and vulgarizes everything it touches. The cameo appearances backfire badly--Robin Williams and Alan Rickman are spectacularly miscast. Forest Whitaker is extraordinary, and his work redeems the family story but cannot do much for the political history. One critic has called The Butler more of a history lesson than a film. It utterly fails to do justice to our common and very different histories. Expand
  10. Tac
    Aug 18, 2013
    1
    Predictable message movie. Save your money and watch it at home so you can fast forward through the boring parts. Oprah is better as a talk show host.
    Wierd casting choices aside from Forrest Whitaker who was good.
  11. Oct 1, 2013
    6
    Great story with unique vantage and fine actors, but too didactic and a bit contrived, as if Cecil were a black Forrest Gump. Makeup is horrific and got in the way of the film
  12. Aug 22, 2013
    1
    Aside from casting Jane Fonda as Mrs. Reagan, this movie failed to show the greater struggle over adversity. Perhaps, this is because it was a quick-moving period piece. Oftentimes, the misplaced humor downplayed the next scene which may have been tragic and/or historic. Scenes where occasionally confusing due to a jump in time and reference point.. The storyline contributed to theAside from casting Jane Fonda as Mrs. Reagan, this movie failed to show the greater struggle over adversity. Perhaps, this is because it was a quick-moving period piece. Oftentimes, the misplaced humor downplayed the next scene which may have been tragic and/or historic. Scenes where occasionally confusing due to a jump in time and reference point.. The storyline contributed to the movie's disappointment; that is-it wasn't a story about an employee in the White House, but the story of that employee's personal life. This movie reminded me of a Hallmark special. Expand
  13. Aug 16, 2013
    4
    It has been a long time since Hollywood had made a family saga spanning 90 years but it hasn’t been that long since ‘based on a true story’ has been distorted and changed and Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ does both. The screenplay is by Danny Strong telling 3 different stories that sometimes gels and other times remain separate and apart. The first story is about Eugene Allen, here named CecilIt has been a long time since Hollywood had made a family saga spanning 90 years but it hasn’t been that long since ‘based on a true story’ has been distorted and changed and Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ does both. The screenplay is by Danny Strong telling 3 different stories that sometimes gels and other times remain separate and apart. The first story is about Eugene Allen, here named Cecil Gaines, and played by Forest Whitaker, who was the butler at the White House during 8 administrations, with stunt casting of presidents and first ladies. The second story is of his marriage to Gloria Gaines, played by Oprah Winfrey, and his two sons Louis and Charlie, played by various actors at different ages (in real life they only had one son), while the third story is the history of Black America, Black Americans and the fight for their civil rights ending in 2008 with Obama, the president elect.

    There are major roles played by Cuba Gooding, jr., Terrence Howard, James Holloway, Yaya Alafia, Elijah Kelly, David Oyelowo, Lenny Kravitz, Colman Domingo and Clarence Williams 3rd all doing better than good jobs.

    Most adults will be familiar with all the civil rights pictures, some recreated, some shown in their original TV stories, such as sit-ins, Freedom Riders, the Black Panther Party, Blacks being hit with water hoses and Black people being put in jail while it might be a good, and new, lesson to those under 35.

    The stunt casting has Robin Williams as President Eisenhower, Liev Schreiber as President Johnson, James Marsden playing John Kennedy, Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as President and Mrs. Reagan, John Cusack as Nixon, Minka Kelly as Jackie Kennedy and Nelson Ellis. There are appearances by Mariah Carey, Vanessa Redgrave, David Banner and Alex Pettyfer.

    Forest Whitaker holds the picture together, while Winfrey as his wife gives him solid support. The director, Lee Daniels, loses control of the 3 separate stories, not melding them as well as he should, but does go for the tear ducts and manipulates the audiences feelings. The production values covering the decades of costumes, make-up, hair designs and set designs are first rate from beginning to end.

    The bottom line is that you who lived through the events won’t be able to avoid the feelings but you will feel tricked by the corny screenplay.
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  14. Aug 18, 2013
    4
    I thought as a movie it was okay. I just get aggravated with the constant reliving of what went on before my time & the constant slap in the face agenda to depict all white people as racist. I think if you want white people to respect the black race then they need to quit reliving their past & give us the respect we deserve. We have come a long way since the 60's & this type of movie onlyI thought as a movie it was okay. I just get aggravated with the constant reliving of what went on before my time & the constant slap in the face agenda to depict all white people as racist. I think if you want white people to respect the black race then they need to quit reliving their past & give us the respect we deserve. We have come a long way since the 60's & this type of movie only sets us back. We all know the times of slavery were horrible. I never would had treated anyone like the slave owners of that time; no matter their race. I would not have owned slaves in the first place! Not all white people have that mentality. I am from the south & was never taught to hate someone because of their race. I am real disappointed that a film like this was made to keep the hatred of blacks towards white people alive! Expand
  15. Sep 2, 2013
    5
    Somewhat enjoyable film. Just Oprah needs to get the facts straight. If Hollywood could come up with a historical movie and actually get all the facts right I would give that movie a 10 even if it were not the most entertaining movie ever made. This revisionist history lesson is one step over Forrest Gump in accuracy. Of course it has to end with Oprah's little baby she helped createSomewhat enjoyable film. Just Oprah needs to get the facts straight. If Hollywood could come up with a historical movie and actually get all the facts right I would give that movie a 10 even if it were not the most entertaining movie ever made. This revisionist history lesson is one step over Forrest Gump in accuracy. Of course it has to end with Oprah's little baby she helped create called Obama. I am surprised he did not make a cameo with all the free press. That with the butler having retired during the Reagan years. Oh and of course lets knock Reagan too in the movie because all white people in the film are reduced to a level of the Jefferson's neighbor in a 70's sitcom. Expand
  16. Oct 21, 2013
    4
    Great acting but rank revisionist history. Seems to demonstrate more the writer's political philosophy than any actual fact. He needed a Whitehouse full of racists till the annointed one appears. When they didn't exist, he makes a racist when none exists. 5 for Forest Whitaker, 0 for Daniel Lee. Negatives for the horrible smear job it does on good leaders. And another negative for castingGreat acting but rank revisionist history. Seems to demonstrate more the writer's political philosophy than any actual fact. He needed a Whitehouse full of racists till the annointed one appears. When they didn't exist, he makes a racist when none exists. 5 for Forest Whitaker, 0 for Daniel Lee. Negatives for the horrible smear job it does on good leaders. And another negative for casting Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagon. Why not just cast a white supremacist as Malcolm X. Expand
  17. Jan 9, 2014
    8
    The Butler is a very touching and easy to follow movie, because despite it treats a difficult topic like racism in the US, it is shown in a simple way, reduced to a family and the job of the father. The interesting thing is how similar is this film with the previous one of Lee Daniels, Precious. In both movies the protagonist fights between three worlds, Precious was debating with herThe Butler is a very touching and easy to follow movie, because despite it treats a difficult topic like racism in the US, it is shown in a simple way, reduced to a family and the job of the father. The interesting thing is how similar is this film with the previous one of Lee Daniels, Precious. In both movies the protagonist fights between three worlds, Precious was debating with her traumatic past, the inescapable present and the fantastic other reality where she is a star. Here Cecil lives between his job as a butler, where he only serves and never talk or react to the opinion of white people; his home life, where his wife feels abandoned and his child has revolutionary thoughts; and all the movements against racist practices that starts all over the country. Another topic that deserves to be mentioned is how this picture evaluates two forms of changing the world and point out that if you want to accomplish something you must be open to other possibilities even if is necessary to go back on ones word and recognize an error. Add to all these, a magnificent performances of Whitaker and Oprah, thrilling action sequences, elaborated script, a great direction; and you get an amazing film. But what it lacks in the story (in contrast to Precious) is more shocking reality and a best use of the illumination, music and camera. Expand
  18. Nov 24, 2013
    6
    This is a moving chronicle of a semi-fictionalized White House butler as seen through the civil rights movement. It has a fantastic montage (or maybe more like a series of intercut scenes) of the black staff at the White House and the Freedom Riders in Alabama. It was one of the more amazing intercut sequences I've seen. I teared up twice during this movie. Whitaker is great.

    This movie
    This is a moving chronicle of a semi-fictionalized White House butler as seen through the civil rights movement. It has a fantastic montage (or maybe more like a series of intercut scenes) of the black staff at the White House and the Freedom Riders in Alabama. It was one of the more amazing intercut sequences I've seen. I teared up twice during this movie. Whitaker is great.

    This movie is also an over-the-top melodrama. It is so melodramatic that, even given the subject matter, I'm calling it melodramatic.

    So I think a 6 is about right.

    The movie is a biopic/history series of events, with a few threads tying it together. But given the subject matter, I can't really fault it for not having a more traditional structure or conventional dramatic arc. If you're interested in the premise, go see it.
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  19. Aug 30, 2013
    10
    What a great movie! Great acting, writing and directing. I haven't seen a movie that I couldn't take my eyes off in a long time. This movie is worth an Oscar. Cecil is a great actor. He is a great storyteller. I appreciate great work he put in the movie. It made me cry to learn what these people went through and it made me feel grateful for the way it is now. It shows you that America isWhat a great movie! Great acting, writing and directing. I haven't seen a movie that I couldn't take my eyes off in a long time. This movie is worth an Oscar. Cecil is a great actor. He is a great storyteller. I appreciate great work he put in the movie. It made me cry to learn what these people went through and it made me feel grateful for the way it is now. It shows you that America is becoming the best country now. Let's be grateful that all the people in this past made this change happen. All hate and segregation.. The people in the past changed that and made America into one. Overall, it is a masterpiece movie that I will always remember in my heart. Expand
  20. Oct 1, 2013
    1
    This movie is well done and Forest Whitaker gives a great performance, but I'm giving it a 1 because it just undeniably racist. Okay reference Obama great that's cool, first black president is a big deal I understand that. When you say that Reagan, one of the greatest presidents ever, was a racist...that pisses me off. There is no reason to have put that in the story. It's wrong andThis movie is well done and Forest Whitaker gives a great performance, but I'm giving it a 1 because it just undeniably racist. Okay reference Obama great that's cool, first black president is a big deal I understand that. When you say that Reagan, one of the greatest presidents ever, was a racist...that pisses me off. There is no reason to have put that in the story. It's wrong and frankly just a low, pointless act of racism. White people can't do anything about it though but just wow, based a true story? Right, this is why racism still exists. Expand
  21. Aug 20, 2013
    9
    Lee Daniels' The Butler is an incredible film shown through the eyes of a man who served the country in a profound way, while having a son who see's many things in the world differently. It is one of the best films of the year so far. A
  22. Sep 10, 2013
    8
    Great (true) story, great acting, great movie. I enjoyed Lee Daniels' the Butler very much. It's a fascinating film that will give you chills for sure. Anybody can enjoy this film, except for children of course. 8/10 MUST SEE!
  23. Sep 12, 2013
    9
    I really liked this movie... It was well acted and had a great story attached to it. It was, however, sad to see such a self absorbed society that treated people so poorly. I must say that I find it inspirational how this man lifted himself above the reproach of such a cruel society. I was impressed with his moral out look and his tenacity to stay focused on importance of job and familyI really liked this movie... It was well acted and had a great story attached to it. It was, however, sad to see such a self absorbed society that treated people so poorly. I must say that I find it inspirational how this man lifted himself above the reproach of such a cruel society. I was impressed with his moral out look and his tenacity to stay focused on importance of job and family even though he had to fight through much racism. This is a great movie. Expand
  24. Aug 21, 2013
    7
    I wanted to see more about the travails of a black butler in the (literally) White House. Instead, we focus on his private life--and, more importantly--the life of his eldest son. Still, this ploy allows us to march down the long hard road of civil rights pioneers. This is a great history lesson for young blacks and for any and all Americans as well. Lots of cameos (who knew Alan RickmanI wanted to see more about the travails of a black butler in the (literally) White House. Instead, we focus on his private life--and, more importantly--the life of his eldest son. Still, this ploy allows us to march down the long hard road of civil rights pioneers. This is a great history lesson for young blacks and for any and all Americans as well. Lots of cameos (who knew Alan Rickman could make such a good Ronald Reagan?) but the two leads provide most of the acting kudos in this timely film. Expand
  25. Aug 16, 2013
    9
    This movie is so cool..it stars a rich black lady who plays a butlers wife. It has all kinds of great drama and history facts and civil rights (Black Power!). I love how the people playing the white president made them look like complete ignorant racist dotting idiots. My only complaint is I wish Jayz was on the soundtrack or maybe lfrench montana to add some spunk to the setting. ThisThis movie is so cool..it stars a rich black lady who plays a butlers wife. It has all kinds of great drama and history facts and civil rights (Black Power!). I love how the people playing the white president made them look like complete ignorant racist dotting idiots. My only complaint is I wish Jayz was on the soundtrack or maybe lfrench montana to add some spunk to the setting. This movie will warm you heart and make you cry about how far we have come as a nation from all stupid white people who have all come before the great Obama. Yes WE CAN YES WE CAN! Expand
  26. Aug 22, 2013
    10
    For all its contrivances, though not many, this is one great film on race that tells the story in a way that has never been told before. Every performance is outstanding. I suggest you bring an entire box of tissues.
  27. Aug 16, 2013
    9
    "You hear nothing. You see nothing. You only serve." Such are the instructions Cecil Gaines receives as he embarks on his daunting new job at the Eisenhower White House in "Lee Daniels' The Butler."
    But of course Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker in a moving, grounded performance that anchors the film and blunts its riskier excesses, hears and sees everything.
    And that means that over
    "You hear nothing. You see nothing. You only serve." Such are the instructions Cecil Gaines receives as he embarks on his daunting new job at the Eisenhower White House in "Lee Daniels' The Butler."
    But of course Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker in a moving, grounded performance that anchors the film and blunts its riskier excesses, hears and sees everything.
    And that means that over more than three decades on the job, he has a Forrest Gump-like view not only of the White House under seven presidents, but of the long arc of the civil rights struggle in 20th-century
    Much has been said about this movie's potential future as an Oscar powerhouse. The speculation is natural especially given its star-studded cast but it takes away from the more important discussion of its simpler virtues, as an absorbing film that has the potential to teach a new generation (and remind an older one) about these crucial events.
    The story is inspired by a Washington Post profile of Eugene Allen, a White House butler from 1952 to 1986. Some anecdotes remain, but much is different. Most importantly, Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong create a father-son dynamic between Gaines and a rebellious older son, Louis (a terrific David Oyelowo) that serves as a backdrop against which the civil rights struggle can play out through the eyes of black characters, not white ones, for a refreshing change.
    This is done most strikingly in a key montage in which Cecil and his fellow White House workers set up an elegant state dinner, china and crystal and all, while down South, Louis is protesting at a segregated lunch counter, leading to a harrowing confrontation.
    But the story begins in 1926, with the death of Cecil's own father at the hands of the barbaric son of a landowner on a Georgia cotton farm. The elderly landowner (Vanessa Redgrave, beginning the celebrity cameo parade) takes Cecil into her home, where he first learns to be a butler how to act, she tells him, like the room is empty even when he's in it.
    Years later, working in a Washington, D.C. hotel, Cecil is noticed by a White House official, leading to a job there. His wife, Gloria, is immensely proud. Gloria, as you may have heard, is played by one Oprah Winfrey, and her performance is often restrained and quite moving. To her credit, you're not thinking "Wow, Oprah!" in every scene; that in itself is no small triumph.
    Not all the star performances are successful. When we first see Robin Williams as Eisenhower, his head bald, it almost feels like we're about to witness a "Saturday Night Live" skit. Williams doesn't overdo it, but the casting choice seems forced.
    James Marsden, on the other hand, is a good choice as John F. Kennedy, with his handsome grin, boyish demeanour and Boston drawl. Liev Schreiber is amusing if a little broad as LBJ, and John Cusack is interesting as Richard Nixon, even though he looks nothing like him. Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda, making the most of her one scene, make a surprisingly satisfying Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
    But what makes the film work, finally, are the soft-spoken Whitaker, whose dignified portrayal rivals his Oscar-winning work in "The Last King of Scotland," and the powerful Oyelowo, whose Louis progresses over the years from determined and brave to angry and cynical, and ultimately to a seasoned older man.
    Their relationship gives structure to the broad story of civil rights in America a story crucial to tell, and crucial to hear. Daniels and company may not have made a masterpiece, but they have made a film you should see.
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  28. Aug 16, 2013
    10
    A powerful movie that illustrates the tragedy of racism and the struggle for equal rights through the life of one man and his family. Forrest Whittaker and Oprah Winfrey are outstanding in the lead roles.
  29. Aug 18, 2013
    8
    “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is the supposedly true story of Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who served under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Nixon, Ford and Reagan. With a screenplay by Danny Strong based on an article by Wil Haygood, the film stars Forest Whitaker in the title role with Oprah Winfrey and a number of leading actors who, with obvious and sometimes annoying“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is the supposedly true story of Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who served under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Nixon, Ford and Reagan. With a screenplay by Danny Strong based on an article by Wil Haygood, the film stars Forest Whitaker in the title role with Oprah Winfrey and a number of leading actors who, with obvious and sometimes annoying make-up nose jobs, playing the respective Presidents The film, directed by Lee Daniels, is 2 hours and 15 minutes long and I guess has to be in order to cover so much history.. Sometimes, though, in an attempt to do the subject justice, the length of the film becomes a problem. Many scenes are drawn out and beg for better editing.. Mr. Whitaker plays the role with finesse and skill and he is totally believable (Academy take note) and others with whom he works do proper portrayals as well. The problem with the film is that, in many instances, there really is no proper seque from one “chapter” or administraton to the next. Titles are used to tell us what era we are in because the script fails to do adequately. Nevertheless, the film attempts to depict life as a black person living (and dying) in the major portion of the 20th Century and, to that end, it succeeds admirably. The indignities and abuses hurled upon our fellow countrymen because of their color is shameful and hits home as the butler works by day in a white White House and goes home at night to his black environment and black reality.. The movie, for these reasons, digs deep and is worthy of our viewing time. I give the film an 8 because few films I have seen have left me with such a feeling of understanding and compassion for a race of people that deserved so much more and have, unfortunately, received so much less. In addition, it affords the viewer a sort of "fly on the wall" look at the inside the White House and of those who occupy it. Expand
  30. Sep 6, 2013
    7
    I really enjoyed this film. I liked the story it was interesting. I generally liked the characters. Was the film perfect no. Do I think this is an amazing film by any means. No. Could this film perhaps have done better and/or shown certain things a certain way. Yes. But for what we got I think The Butler is a pretty enjoyable film. It kept me engaged, something I cannot say for someI really enjoyed this film. I liked the story it was interesting. I generally liked the characters. Was the film perfect no. Do I think this is an amazing film by any means. No. Could this film perhaps have done better and/or shown certain things a certain way. Yes. But for what we got I think The Butler is a pretty enjoyable film. It kept me engaged, something I cannot say for some movies, and if you are looking for a film to see during the dry September than I say check it. It’ll be interesting to see if this film gets any Oscar nominations. Expand
Metascore
66

Generally favorable reviews - based on 47 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 30 out of 47
  2. Negative: 0 out of 47
  1. Reviewed by: Jenny McCartney
    Nov 20, 2013
    80
    The Butler might bite off more history than it can chew, but it packs a sustained emotional punch, more than a pinch of wit, and a superb performance from Whitaker as a man burning with passion beneath his immaculate, repressed exterior.
  2. Reviewed by: Trevor Johnston
    Nov 12, 2013
    60
    The result isn’t as powerful as it should be. But it’s still cheering to see a film whose moral journey has little to do with the usual Hollywood chestnut of white middle-class consciousness-raising.
  3. Reviewed by: Simon Braund
    Nov 11, 2013
    60
    Manipulative and preachy, The Butler is redeemed by a sensitive performance from Forest Whitaker and the undeniable power of the events it depicts.